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Grandparenting from a Distance: A Case Study

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 24 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Grandparents Grandchildren Distance

A few generations ago, most children lived near enough to their grandparents to be a part of their everyday lives. Many even lived under the same roof, with multi-generational households being quite common.

These days, children often grow up and move away from their hometowns, so grandparents don’t always have the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with their grandchildren. Add to that the ever increasing number of grandparents who lead full and busy lives of their own, oftentimes choosing to relocate after retirement in order to better enjoy the company of their peers, and long-distance grandparenting has become commonplace.

One Grandmother’s Experience

Carla has four grandchildren, all of whom she loves dearly. If she could, she’d be there in person to see them as they participate in their activities, but it’s not feasible because their house is a 5-6 hour drive from hers. Typically, she gets to be with the kids about four time a year—six at most—so she has learned to make the most of the time they have together. When asked if the children are hesitant to approach her when they first get together because of the length of time between visits, Carla replies, “The initial greeting is pretty seamless now that the youngest two are a little older. They can be a little standoffish, but it only takes minutes.”

Carla, like many grandparents, wishes things were different. “We have never lived close. I would love to live by them; it would be a blessing to be part of their everyday lives. But I don't know if that will ever happen,” she says.

Building Bonds from Afar

While nothing can replace face-to-face visits, smart grandparents like Carla understand that it is possible to develop and maintain deep connections with grandchildren, even when time and distance are prohibitive. Carla makes a point to keep in touch with her grandchildren via the telephone, which is probably a lot easier with the oldest two, ages ten and thirteen, than it is with the younger ones, but she does chat with them, too. Her 3 ½ year old grandson has even begun initiating some of the calls, so it certainly won’t be long before his sister, only a year and half old, follows suit!

Handling Holidays and other Special Occasions

When holidays and other special occasions roll around, Carla tries to make sure that her grandchildren have gifts from her, even when she can’t be there to see them open them. She chooses special things for each child and then sends them off, knowing that by remembering the children on special days, she is helping them to build precious memories that they will take with them long after the ribbons and bows have been discarded.

Carla mentioned that when she was a child, her family visited both sets of her grandparents every Sunday. As is the case for many of us, her memories of these shared times involved special treats that her grandmothers prepared. Her maternal grandmother, a rather proper lady who always dressed well “with the matching beads and shoes and hat for every dress,” served pies while her father’s mother, a countrywoman, “…more like Antie Em on the Wizard of Oz!” offered her guests popcorn. Few grandparents today would likely be described as “proper,” but many still take pride in providing their grandchildren with their favourite treats. It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Establishing Family Traditions

When asked how she passes on family traditions to her grandchildren, Carla acknowledged that it isn’t easy when she doesn’t get to be a part of their everyday lives. For many families, it is not only during the holidays that traditions are established, but also in the carrying on of normal daily routines. She did mention that she is taking one of her grandchildren, the 3 ½ year old, on a special holiday, “just the two of us, no adults allowed!” so there is little doubt that the other children will be clamouring for their turns at having their grandmother all to themselves soon enough. Whether or not she is intending to, Carla is likely beginning a new family tradition of special getaways, one on one with each of her grandchildren.

Words of Wisdom

Grandparents are wise souls—just ask any of us who spend our time marveling at the wonders of our grandkids and we’ll tell you just how clever we are. By the time that they are enjoying their children’s children, most people have learned a few things about what is and what is not important in life, and Carla is no exception. When asked if she had any words of wisdom to offer to other grandparents, she replied, “My advice to grandparents is to treasure every moment you have with those babies. And make fun of their parents.” It sounds like Carla has a pretty good handle on this grandparent thing.

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